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Growing Democracy in Japan

Growing Democracy in Japan: The Parliamentary Cabinet System since 1868

Brian Woodall
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 300
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    Growing Democracy in Japan
    Book Description:

    The world's third largest economy and a stable democracy, Japan remains a significant world power; but its economy has become stagnant, and its responses to the earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011 and the nuclear crisis that followed have raised international concerns. Despite being constitutionally modeled on Great Britain's "Westminster"-style parliamentary democracy, Japan has failed to fully institute a cabinet-style government, and its executive branch is not empowered to successfully respond to the myriad challenges confronted by an advanced postindustrial society.

    In Growing Democracy in Japan, Brian Woodall compares the Japanese cabinet system to its counterparts in other capitalist parliamentary democracies, particularly in Great Britain. Woodall demonstrates how the nation's long history of dominant bureaucracies has led to weakness at the top levels of government, while mid-level officials exercise much greater power than in the British system. The post--1947 cabinet system, begun under the Allied occupation, was fashioned from imposed and indigenous institutions which coexisted uneasily. Woodall explains how an activist economic bureaucracy, self-governing "policy tribes" (zoku) composed of members of parliament, and the uncertainties of coalition governments have prevented the cabinet from assuming its prescribed role as primary executive body.

    Woodall's meticulous examination of the Japanese case offers lessons for reformers as well as for those working to establish democratic institutions in places such as Iraq, Afghanistan, China, and the new regimes born during the Arab Spring. At the very least, he argues, Japan's struggles with this fundamental component of parliamentary governance should serve as a cautionary tale for those who believe that growing democracy is easy.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4502-0
    Subjects: Political Science, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Abbreviations and Japanese Terms
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Note on Conventions
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-30)

    On the afternoon of March 11, 2011, an apprehensive nation looked to Prime Minister Kan Naoto and his cabinet for leadership and reassurance in the aftermath of a series of cascading disasters. Unleashed by the most powerful temblor ever to hit the quake-prone country, the catastrophe began with the Eastern Japan Great Earthquake, one of the five strongest in recorded history. Hundreds of aftershocks followed, and millions of households and businesses were left without electrical power. The earthquake produced an enormous tsunami that propelled a lethal wall of water ten kilometers inland. Nearly twenty thousand people died and more than...

  6. 1 The Anti-Westminsterian Roots of Japan’s Parliamentary Cabinet System, 1868–1946
    (pp. 31-82)

    The modern cabinet system that was established in 1885 did not materialize out of thin air. In fact, it inherited organizational structures, institutions, and experienced administrators from the “Grand Council,” an administrative system that was originally imported from China during the eighth century and was resurrected as part of the Meiji Restoration, an institutional reconfiguration initiated in 1868. The Chinese characters that combine to form the Japanese term for “cabinet”—naiandkaku—translate to mean “inner palace.”¹ From 1868 until 1898, Japan’s central state executive was dominated by a cabal composed of leaders from Satsuma and Chōshū, two feudal...

  7. 2 Comprador Cabinets and Democracy by the Sword, 1946–1955
    (pp. 83-114)

    When the Shidehara cabinet resigned on May 22, 1946, it was expected that Hatoyama Ichirō, leader of the largest party in the House of Representatives, would become prime minister. But as Hatoyama was preparing to make his way to the Imperial Palace to receive his appointment, word arrived that he had been purged on orders from General Headquarters, which was carrying out the American-led occupation’s policy of removing former militarists from public office. Hatoyama turned over the reins of party leadership to Yoshida Shigeru, a retired career diplomat, who promised to vacate the party’s leadership position upon Hatoyama’s eventual return...

  8. 3 Corporatist Cabinets and the Emergence of the “1955 System,” 1955–1972
    (pp. 115-142)

    On November 15, 1955, the Liberal Democratic Party (Jiyūminshutō, or LDP) was born in a ceremony held on a university campus in Tokyo. Speeches were made, “banzais” were shouted under raised arms, and Ogata Taketora, Hatoyama Ichirō, Ōno Banboku, and Miki Bukichi emerged as the party’s acting presidents. Although talk of a “conservative alliance” (hoshū gōdō) was not new, personal and partisan rivalries invariably stood in the way. The breakthrough had come six months earlier, the result of a telephone conversation between erstwhile enemies Ōno and Miki, the respective lieutenants in Ogata’s Liberal and Hatoyama’s Japan Democratic parties. This led...

  9. 4 Confederate Cabinets and the Demise of the “1955 System,” 1972–1993
    (pp. 143-166)

    On July 7, 1972, at fifty-four years of age, Tanaka Kakuei became the youngest prime minister in the postwar era. His rise from humble origins to the pinnacle of the political executive conjured up images of a latter-day Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1537–1598), the peasant-turned-warlord who helped to establish a system of centralized governance that brought an end to the Warring States (sengoku jidai—1476–1615) period. Tanaka was proclaimed the “commoner premier” (shōmin saishō) because he displayed a populist style, liked to singnaniwabushi(traditional Japanese narrative songs), and lacked the elitist educational pedigree of his predecessors. He established a...

  10. 5 Disjoined Cabinets—Act I: Coalition Governments and the Lost Decades, 1993–2006
    (pp. 167-188)

    After enduring a seemingly interminable period of economic malaise, Japanese voters had all but lost hope that their democratically elected leaders could lead the country out of what came to be known as the “lost decade.” Then, after a succession of faction bosses from the perpetually ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) had taken turns as prime minister in cabinets composed of ministers recruited almost exclusively from the ranks of party lawmakers—and through half-baked policies, scandals, and gaffes had managed to drive popular support for the government to near historic lows—an unlikely leader emerged. In contrast to most of...

  11. 6 Disjoined Cabinets—Act II: Twisted Diets and Lost Leadership Opportunity, 2006–2013
    (pp. 189-210)

    On December 26, 2012, Abe Shinzō became the first former premier to return to form a government since Yoshida Shigeru had done so sixtyfour years earlier. Known as the “prince of the political realm” (seikai no purinsu) because both his father and grandfather had been royalty in parliamentary circles, Abe had formed his first cabinet on September 26, 2006. Despite strong public approval, Abe’s predecessor, Koizumi Jun’ichirō, had been obliged to step aside to comply with the rule that limited the tenure of the LDP’s president to two three-year terms. Abe’s first stint as prime minister, which began with high...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 211-222)

    Why has cabinet government failed to develop in Japan? The failure is puzzling because the 1947 Constitution established Westminster-style parliamentary institutions, and more surprising given the fact that the seedlings of parliamentary democracy began to sprout under theanti-Westminsterian prewar order. Most would agree that postwar Japan has established a stable system of democratic governance; but it has yet to produce the effective executive leadership—in the form of cabinet government, strong prime ministerial leadership, or other structures—that is needed to respond to the panoply of challenges faced by advanced industrialized democracies. After all these years, why has Japan...

  13. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 223-224)
  14. Appendix A. Japanese Cabinets and Cabinet Ministers Database
    (pp. 225-226)
  15. Appendix B. Ministers’ Parliamentary and Social Attributes
    (pp. 227-230)
  16. Appendix C. Ministerial Hierarchy
    (pp. 231-234)
  17. Notes
    (pp. 235-244)
  18. Selected References
    (pp. 245-268)
  19. Index
    (pp. 269-284)
  20. Back Matter
    (pp. 285-288)